Subject: Re: Trip to China and Mongolia
Hi Lou, Mary and Gerry

Yes Lou , I think you would find it very different now and I too would like to see a longer trip report if Mary and Gerry are up for it.

Fellow Ziner Barbara Burgess and I were in China last year and had a wonderful time. For the first three weeks we were with a small group adventure tour and the final week we were on our own.

You would find many people now anxious to practise their English, and not just the inevitable ones who really want to sell you services and goods. We spent a Sunday afternoon in Beijing at an English Speakers Corner where young people from 11 years of age up to their 30's gather each week to speak English. Ideally with a native English speaker but most often just among themselves. Some of the older ones travel hours by train for the experience. They were thrilled to have us visit with them and we left to a standing ovation. Well worth anyone's investment of time and a great introduction to the city and the Chinese people.

Hotel management in larger cities now have a much better understanding of the level of service western visitors want, but don't expect North American standards and really I didn't want them, we get those here. The airlines were better than I had dared to hope, the food on the planes quite acceptable and the airports I found very efficient. Often by the time we got to the luggage carousel so had our suitcases. Signage is in English and they have English speaking staff at the information desks. Of course it became more of a challenge when things went wrong. The first hint is the arrival of a tea wagon. We soon realised this meant delays and sometimes it took us quite a while to figure out what was going on. But we managed. The military are less in evidence but I understand that they still have a strong presence, it just isn't as obvious.

There is now a huge domestic tourist trade. We were there during the Millennium May holiday, practically everyone not in the tourist industry had a 10 day vacation and everyone was on the move. The city folk were travelling to the countryside and the country folk were heading for the cities. The large hotels had both western and Chinese guests but I think a lot were Hong Kong Chinese or from Taiwan. Some of the smaller Chinese hotels had special Chinese only rooms with less amenities but of course a lot cheaper.

The big surprises seem to be the beauty of the countryside and the warmth and friendliness of the Chinese, I was bowled over by them and have wonderful memories of the ordinary people we met on our travels who welcomed us to their country and even into their homes.

We ended our trip with a pre dawn hike (climb!) up to a remote section of the Great Wall with William Lindsey, a Brit who's claim to fame is having been the first person to run the Wall from East to West. We stayed at his farmhouse north of Beijing and I would highly recommend the weekend trip to anyone with the stamina for the climb. Or even to just relax in a lovely unspoilt village and let Will's wife Qi spoil you for a few days.

I have a trip report and over a hundred photos on our website is you would like to see how things looked in the year 2000. Undoubtedly some things have changed since we were there. The Hutong district we visited has been demolished to make a highway interchange and with the Olympics now firmly in their bag I am sure we will hardly recognise Beijing before too long.

Regards Sue Wright Toronto